Good morning everyone, and welcome to this week’s Sunday Sidebar. This week I spoke to Jake Kazdal, lead designer and CEO at 17-BIT, née Haunted Temple Studios. Jake is a seasoned veteran in the games industry, having worked his way through Nintendo, Sega, and Electronic Arts. Games you may have played that spent time on Jake’s work-top include Space Channel 5, Command and Conquer 4, and most significantly for me, Rez.
“I’m really tiring of the big budget sequels, thank god for indie gaming!”
Hi Jake! What’s your role in 17-BIT?
Hey! I’m Jake Kazdal, CEO, Creative Director and Art Director. Our team is only a handful: Borut Pfeifer is the lead engineer and a designer, Ben Vance is an engineer, designer and lead writer. Paul Schreiber does some engineering and runs operations, and Colin Williamson focuses on UI and PR materials. We also have some part time contractors that kick a lot of butt too!
So, a new game and a new name. Why the change from ‘Haunted Temple’ to ‘17-BIT’?
Haunted Temple came from my love of Chinese Ghost Hunting movies, a whole genre full of action and wackiness. With all the temples you haunt in Skulls of the Shogun, it seemed more than appropriate! However, what started out as a joke with mockup packaging for an old 32-bit style press kit, ended up giving us the name 17-BIT, and now we have just recently changed the name of the studio to that! 17-BIT basically means the core experience of 16 -BIT games, plus a bit of modern polish.
How did you get into game design, and when?
I worked at Nintendo in High School as a game counselor before the internet killed that job, I’ve always loved games and knew I wanted to do it from a pretty young age. Today, in my team here at 17-BIT, I do the character designs, design the backgrounds, and am the lead game designer. I’m fascinated by visual communication, and how much it impacts a player’s experience with a game.
You divide your time between Seattle and Tokyo. Was it your career with Sega that caused such a duality? Where is home nowadays?
Yes, it was working at Sega that gave me a life here in Tokyo. I’m in Tokyo right now, finishing up the last bits of Skulls of the Shogun away from the main studio in Seattle. I still live in Seattle, but plan to move back to Japan later this year, probably for good this time. It is home now.
Do you think it is an exciting time to be an indie developer? What sort of challenges do you face because of it?
This might be the best time to be an indie developer. As indie gaming grows, so do the markets that support it. There are so many avenues: Steam, iOS, XBLA, PSN, etc. There has never been such easy access to such huge audiences as there is right now, and as awareness continues to grow hopefully it will really prosper. It seems the AAA disc games are really struggling right now.
Yeah, I mean [being indie] just means having the ability to create exactly the experience you want to create, whether it be through film or music or whatever. Not having ‘big brother’ looking over your shoulder constantly telling you what you need to change. I do believe you see a lot more original exciting content coming out of the indie scene in any media, and games are certainly no exception to that. I’m really tiring of the big budget sequels, thank god for indie gaming!
Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on at the moment?
We’re finalizing Skulls of the Shogun now. It takes inspiration from classic turn-based strategy games, infused with 1960s Japanese cartoon flair. All the content is submitted and complete, so we are just fixing bugs and finalizing network code right now. As regards platforms and dates, we’ll be launching on XBLA, Windows Phone App Store, and Windows 8, all in conjunction with the release of Windows 8. So… whenever that happens!
It really has a striking art style, can you tell us more about it?
I have been very influenced by 1960s Japanime, as well as modern urban vinyl character design. I love iconic, simple, original characters. The advantage of a 2D game like this is that you can much more effectively design every shot, you always get just the right angle on your characters to see their faces, you’re never going to have guys facing in all different directions, making it much harder to tell what unit type they are. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker has always been a massive inspiration to me. Link’s expressive little face, the amazing blend of cinematics and yet still keeping the entirety very cartoony. [Laughs] Yeah, it’s definitely one of my biggest inspirations!
How did your publishing deal with Microsoft come about? That must have been an exciting and relieving moment.
I can’t go into too much detail, unfortunately. It was a long hard road, but something I really wanted to make happen. I love XBLA, and I spend the majority of my (admittedly rare these days) gaming time on there. There are always lots of new ideas, but still with tons of polish. It’s really a great thing.
Finally, what is your prized geek possession? Is there anything you’re still holding onto from way back when?
I have an unhealthy love of Tomy’s little robot series out of Japan in the 80s. My Ding Bot and Hoot Bot rank amongst my most prized possessions.
Thanks for your time, and best of luck with the launch!